As much as you need a physical warm up to prepare for practice, you need to perform a mental warm up also in order to get the most out of each session. When your practice is effective, focussed, purposeful and intentional, you massively heighten the ability to transfer what you have been working on into the actual performance when it counts.
I would encourage players to reach a level of excitement before training. A coach can help this for sure, but as a player you need to do it yourself. Think about why you are doing what you are doing. Think about what you want to get out of the session. Use prior matches and practises as building blocks to grow the level of excitement and enthusiasm for training. Be aware of your longer-term goals and what you want to achieve to help give you that motivation to get the most out of your training session.
It is useful to find a way to drive and push yourself mentally as well as physically in practise. How long can you sustain your mental intensity? How well am I staying engaged in this practise? Look to build in checkpoints along the way during a practise session i.e., after 10 minutes be present and be in the here and now and give yourself a score out of 10. If it's bad, then this is an opportunity to start again and use this as your next benchmark in order to get the most out of the remainder of the session. Try and not let your sessions descend and putting in mental checkpoints along the way can help this.
Playing with emotion in a match does not allow in-match adjustments. This is even more important to focus on in practise. Be sure to do the right thing when nobody is watching. Don’t rely on the observation of a coach in order to train and behave at your best. If you allow yourself to be emotive in practise, then when the pressure is on in a match this will only be massively exaggerated. Practise should be controlled but not subdued and the real key is to not let the negativity come in.
Another way to think about getting the most out of yourself each training session is to be honest with the level you are currently at and feeling. If for example it’s not a great day and you feel say 60% of your usual self, ensure that you get the utter best out of that 60% and squeeze out every drop of it that you can. It is quite rare that in a match you will be feeling 100% in all areas. But if you get into the mindset about being at the maximum level of how you are feeling on any given day then you will give yourself a great chance to perform at your best in competition no matter how you are feeling. And that is all we can ask for in any given matchday can’t we?
What you do at the end of practise forms the template for what you will do next practise. You should get in the habit to sit down and reflect and not just finish the session and close your mind off to it fully. Just because the session is over doesn’t mean that learning can’t take place. So much learning comes from reflecting on the experience you have just had. Even if it is as simple as opening the notes app on your phone and jotting down 1 line about practise, this is enough for now. I would suggest getting in a habit of journaling on this for at least 5-minutes after each session. But even this 1 line can be that template for the next session. When you arrive at the session, take out the phone and find that note you made. It will be a great prompt for the mind to get into gear about what you need to be focussed on and work on at the next session. Again, if you can extend this process to looking at the journal entry at home before you leave for training this will begin to warm up the mind earlier and allow you to start the session with real intent, purpose and a focussed direction.
It is worth noting that you have an obligation to others in training. They will get out of practise what you're going to put into practise and vice versa. You should hold each other accountable and alert each other when the levels of application and purpose are dropping. You want to be part of the solution not part of the problem. You have a responsibility to your partner.
Finally, be willing to wade through the mud to win a match, especially so when you are not feeling at your sharpest or best. This is a character trait we need to cultivate in practise when things are not quite right. See a difficult practise as an opportunity to work on this character trait that can become a superpower. If practise is not going well and you throw in the towel because you are frustrated and want things to be perfect and just right, then you are setting yourself up to behave like this in a match when the pressure is on and things are hardly ever going to be prefect.
Practical tips for getting the most out of your practise
- Heighten your self-awareness before, during and after each session
- Set your intentions before the session (ideally from notes from the last session or match)
- Bring a level of excitement and enthusiasm to what you are doing
- Use mental checkpoints during the sessions to either reenforce the good you are doing or to reset and start again
- Work on being controlled but not subdued with your emotions
- Reflect at the end of practise by writing down what went well and also what needs to be improved upon, this process massively helps self-awareness and all athletes that improve quickly perform this process constantly
- Remember you have an obligation to others, be sure if you want to get the most out of practise give back your best for others
- Often practise will not be perfect and you will have to encounter obstacles and frustrations, you need to try and see these as opportunities to grow the character trait of GRIT